FolkWorld #73 11/2020
© Producciones Mirmidón

The Sephardic Sonority

It is the first time for a recovery project of the urban Sephardic music of the Ottoman Empire. Jako el Muzikante (aka Xurxo Fernandes) will be on tour in 2021 with his spectacular show Ven al Luna Park.

Jako el Muzikante

Jako el Muzikante

Jako el Muzikante "Ven al Lu-
na Park", CDcopiaDVD, 2019

Artist Video

Constantinople, 1902. In a Café Aman, Greeks, Turks, Armenians and Sephardic descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 gather together clandestinely to sing. They sing love, humoristic and other songs talking about their political and social reality in an oriental style. Jako el Muzikante, Jako the Rogue, survives singing at weddings and bar mitzvah parties, while he pilfers what he can to pleased and often intoxicated customers. Shortly after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Greece, Turkey and Armenia adopted and adapted all this music within their new borders. But Sephardic melodies fell into oblivion due to the difficult situation faced by its performers.

Jako el Muzikante

At the beginning of the 21st century, Xurxo Fernandes embarks on a research work in Turkey and Israel, that takes him to collect the repertoire of those Café Aman songs and present Jako el Muzikante, a project matured over years of research that makes us feel the Sephardic sonority performed in its original language, Ladino or Djudeo-Espanyol.

Xurxo is a singer from Galicia, one of the voices of the new folk generation, able to innovate from a very deep knowledge of the traditional heritage and with an inquisitive spirit that leads him to research until reaching the most authentic sources. Xurxo is an enthusiast of Sephardic culture, and, at the same time, a maestro performer with a warm, powerful and expressive voice full of nuances, which he handles with good taste and perfection in the melismatic singing of the Sephardic repertoire sung in Djudeo-Espanyol.

On stage, Xurxo presents a programme with songs, that he has documented on his travels to Turkey and Israel, and a mise-en-scene full of virtuosity and bawdiness, that remind us of the great performers of the 20th century, with a dandy style in the Maurice Chevalier way and the nerve of the interwar period cabaret, moved to that place where East meets West. Among all the Sephardic musical styles, Jako el Muzikante's show intends to rescue the atmosphere of the Café Aman, the antecedents of live music cafés and cabarets which became in the 1920s a means of expression for all the social classes of that time, without distinction of race, religion, economic status or ideology.

From a musical point of view, the project offers the possibility of deepening in the Ottoman modal system, providing a fresh vision which is common to this type of music. This is achieved by mixing the Gypsy flavor of the East with a perfect mastery in the art of Taksim Square, which is a type of Eastern improvisation that makes each performance a new experience.

Photo Credits: (1)-(3) Jako el Muzikante (unknown/website).

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